Millennium Post

Politicians must shut up on sex crimes

Politicians must shut up on sex crimes
That most Indian politicians who itch to comment on any issue at the drop of a hat make little sense is old hat. The reason they should put their mouth under lock, and preferably throw the key away somewhere it cannot be found immediately, is that they betray a near-total absence of either sense or sensibility when talking about sensitive subjects. Crime against women being one. The reason’s simple: this is one issue where the need to be correct has to go hand in hand with the need to be politically correct. And political correctness, surprisingly, comes as easily to most politicians as rains in Rajasthan desert.

Observe how some of the loquacious ones have reacted to the Tarun Tejpal’s alleged sexual assault on a woman journalist from his magazine, Tehelka, for instance. On Wednesday (27 November), Digvijay Singh, senior Congress leader, party spokesperson and otherwise Twitter fanatic who has been surprisingly quiet on the issue so far, said as an aside at an event to launch former Lalu Yadav acolyte Pappu Yadav’s book: ‘I know Tarun Tejpal for a long time. But this is also true that Tejpal had carried out a sting operation on the then BJP president and a minister of the NDA government. After that, the manner in which people from Tejpal’s Tehelka institution were targeted and the way the media was strangulated during NDA government is also a historical fact...He has been fighting against communal forces.’

Asked about the rape charge against him, he said it was a ‘matter between a young journalist, an employee of Tehelka, and its editor’ (Read the Indian Express story on ‘Congress confusion’ in face of the Tejpal affair here).

Now, what precisely does he mean by that? Is he saying the whole case against him has been cooked up in an effort to ‘target’ him? And, god forbid, by whom? Is the woman journalist doing it all at the behest of the BJP?

One can be sure he did not mean any of that. But could he not have termed his words better? No sir, he’s an Indian politician, a breed that needs to have an opinion on everything. Or, for instance, BJP senior MP Sushma Swaraj’s tweet yesterday that a ‘Union Cabinet Minister who is the founder and patron of Tehlaka is shielding Tarun Tejpal’. Aside from the fact that Tejpal himself is the core founder of Tehelka, what was the need for the tweet unless she names who that minister is, as Congress’s Kapil Sibal, a ‘union cabinet minister’ to boot, reacted (though why he reacted when no one had named him is another issue)? And, to top it, there was no follow-up tweet. Does that mean the said minister who was allegedly shielding Tejpal had withdrawn that shield? Or the minister stopped being the founder and patron of the magazine?

Anyone and his nephew (my nine-year-old included) who reads the papers and watches high-voltage TV knows only Tejpal himself and the magazine’s managing editor, Shoma Chaudhury, were defending the by-now-self-recused chief editor. The police have filed a case, the accused is still to be arrested and both he and his deputy are defending him. So who, if anyone at all, is protecting, sorry shielding, him?
Then there was Sanjay Jha, a motormouth and a Congress spokesperson who, it seems, is in such tearing hurry to beat cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle’s record of packing in three and half words per second that he rarely pauses to think. On Times Now last night, Jha did well initially, not taking the bait to jump in full-bodied, and get stuck in the mud. But then, like all motor-mouthed politicians, he took the discussion to a different tangent, and launched a diatribe against Narendra Modi’s Gujarat government for the alleged ‘Snoopgate’ affair. And if that wasn’t enough, he also tried to create a caste hierarchy with regard to sex crimes: the snoopgate is ‘more important’ because the alleged accused is a PM candidate.

Which, er, means the journalist’s case can wait till then? Or does it mean she, and the assault on her ‘trust and body’ as she put it in her email to Tejpal, is a victim of collateral damage in grander scheme of things?

And then there were the ABVP activists who protested outside the Tehelka office soon after the news broke, and the BJP activists protesting outside Shoma Chaudhury’s residence this morning. What exactly were they trying to prove? In the first case, Tejpal had resigned and defending himself in the most atrocious ways that were shredded apart everywhere, and the Goa government had stated it would register a case suo motu. In the latter, Chaudhury had resigned. So what were/are their demands?
As for Naresh Agarwal, the Samajwadi Party leader who said rape is ‘overhyped’ (apropos Assam rape and violence) and is ‘concerned’ about the anti-rape laws (apropos Tejpal’s alleged sexual assault), the less said the better. As the unkind would say uncharitably, more than sensibility, he needs to grow some sense first.

The only politician who has performed reasonably well in all this is Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar: he got the state police to file a case, send a team to Delhi and then Mumbai, got the journalist to make a statement before a judge on November 27 and then – rightly – ignored Sushma Swaraj’s somewhat inane observations about the alleged union minister who is allegedly batting for Tejpal. And now that his press con is done, Parrikar, too, should keep his lips sealed lest he, too, finds himself diving in the same bowl of soup.

On arrangement with Governance Now
Shantanu Datta

Shantanu Datta

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